Laurel Berman

Laurel Berman
Location: Chicago, Illinois Cohort Start Year: 2016 Project Topic: Environmental Justice
Environmental Health Scientist
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

Laurel is part of an initiative to create Healthfields in Navajo Nation as a model for other regions. Healthfields is the safe reuse of environmentally impacted lands to improve health outcomes. Environmentally impacted lands may be contaminated, but could be cleaned and reused. These sites are called “brownfields” or land reuse sites. They often drag down communities, presenting dangerous chemical contaminants and exposures, lowering property values, and contributing to overall blight and disinvestment. Navajo Nation is representative of communities with multiple land reuse sites, and are often communities with a history of discrimination and injustice. Through community empowerment and diverse partnerships, we can all create Healthfields through community expertise, small wins, and a shared vision for equity.

As an environmental professional, Laurel witnessed the devastation that environmental contamination and impacted sites created in communities. She saw boarded buildings, open dumping, and few amenities in these communities. This drove her to pursue graduate degrees in public health, and for 12 years she has been living the dream: working directly with communities to create visions for physical, environmental, and economic health. The Culture of Health program has helped Laurel leverage partnerships and change personally as a leader to become a team member in a variety of communities. She has also documented success, such as removal of contamination, jobs created through redevelopment, and money leveraged to create a healthy economy and provide community benefits. The Culture of Health Program is helping Laurel “brand” Healthfields as an organization that can fund small projects to spread the word about health-focused land reuse and redevelopment.

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